Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Animation 101: 5 Reasons to stop whining about being offered jobs with no pay...

It's endlessly annoying to read artists complaining that someone contacted them to do work for free. Artists quickly use this situation to belittle, burn a bridge, and then bore us to death with self righteous pontification in the hope of looking ethical in the eyes of other artists. Artists get so emotional about it, they've even created bodies of work based on the concept (ironically probably didn't get paid for, or, perhaps got a lot of "exposure" from these drawings). 
Or, as cartoon brew illustrates one of the most self righteous and demeaning ways to handle the situation of being offered to work for free.  Another great example, which I confess, is very entertaining, is the famous Saissbury super market ad that is looking for "ambitious artist to voluntarily refurbish our canteen." and in turn garnered a hilarious response. I have to wonder how much time the artists spent writing that witty reply, or drawing. This attitude is summed up nicely in the following cartoon brew comment:

"Requests for free work come from people who literally don't value your work. Why humor these requests at all? It's blatantly insulting." -animator Marc Hendry

These examples show how Artists are systematically encouraged to act entitled, unprofessional, un-resourceful, and all around miserable.  The way people react to being offered a job with no pay says a lot more about that artist than it does the client. These days, if you are an un-resourceful artist with a bad attitude, you will have a very challenging career in front of you, to say the least.  Here are Five things to keep in mind when offered little to no money for your artwork or animation:

1. Someone is interested in your work, this is never a bad thing.
Stop and think about who you are upset with.  This is a person who not only found your work interesting, but liked it enough to contact you. It's a big mistake to assume other people are at the same moral standard as yourself, cut people some slack. Most people who offer artists work for no pay have simply never worked with artists, or are ignorant about how much work goes into the art. At the worst, they're just trying to get something for free.. but they like your work. Use this as a opportunity to educate someone about you and your art, instead of getting on your ethical high horse and start shouting.

2. People can find money.
Some of my best long term clients originated from an paltry amount of money, or no money at all.  But instead of whining and quickly burning a bridge, I suggested that they try to find some money. I like to use the phrase "scrape up some cash to cover my expenses." Often times this will jolt the client into the reality that artists make a living doing this, and require payment. If they valued your work enough to contact you, they will most likely find some money for you, but the artist has to ask and not dismiss. A favorite technique I use is to suggest a crowdfunding campaign, and tell them you are willing to contribute your name and art to the effort. I did this once and it resulted in getting a rate higher than I would have normally charged. Again, it's not a time to get insulted or upset. It's a time to get creative and flex your people skills.. or at the very least, politely decline.

3. Alternative payment options.
There are a lot of ways to get paid. I was offered to do a music video for free.. it was a great song, and the band had other really good songs.  But they really had no money. zero. Instead of getting insulted, I told them I couldn't do it, but I also said I loved their music, and I have an independent film in mind that could really use a score. We kept in touch.  Eventually, in exchange for them giving me a free score, I agreed to make a video for them. We also planned on collaborating on a few other projects.  In the end, I made a solid connection and a good friend.  In addition, often times you can barter things like unconditional creative control and distribution rights.  Another music video I did years ago was very very low budget, but the band agreed that I could submit the video to festivals and competitions, and it ended up winning a boat load of cash, which I never had to share with the band. The video played on MTV and other media, and led to many other jobs.

4. Always have a technique that can be offered for cheap.
My preferred technique is very expensive. So I have about four other techniques that look cool, but don't take me a load of time.  When a client offers me little or no money, I can always suggest one of these techniques.  It's good advice for every artist to have a quick low budget method at the ready. More often than not, clients end up finding more money as you get deeper into the project, because they see the potential and value (see above #2).

5. Exposure is not a dirty word.
As much as artists love to bitch about clients suggesting the job will offer "exposure".. sometimes a job will do just that, and you would be foolish not to consider this element.  I will admit that being offered a job for no money  but a lot of "exposure" is a cheap ploy clients pull on artists, but it's your attitude after this ploy that will either help or hinder you.  So before you get your panties in a twist, consider if there actually is a lot of "exposure" to this job, and use the above #1-4.  Don't condemn people for trying to get work for free, people do what they do, lighten up.

There is one example that I can share that quintessentially shows what I'm talking about above:  A colleague of mine with a similar style as my own was offered a job for a very small amount of money, he was insulted and replied to the client with a very indignant attitude.  Around the same time I was offered a similar job, but for even less money. I took a different approach, I was flattered that the client contacted me, but declined until they can "scrape up a bit more cash", I managed to get a little more money out of them (still very little), and also had the client agree that I have complete creative control.  Also, I really believed in the project and thought it would be successful.. So I had the client agree that any future work, would be given to me exclusively.  I did the job.. and for the next 5 years I got consistent and good budget work from this client, made some good connections, learned a lot about my own technique.  This single job lead to almost every other job I got for the next decade.  Years later, the client confided in me that the reason he kept coming back to me was my attitude early on.  Clients don't like difficult artists, and we really can be difficult, especially if we don't modify our attitudes about low or no pay.


  1. This is no baloney! Great suggestions, I will share it with many.

  2. Thanks for providing an alternative way to look at this. Your suggestions are very wise.

  3. I'm kind of on the fence on this. Some free/cheap work has gotten me more opportunities, while other times I got burned pretty badly. I definitely agree though you shouldn't automatically get uptight and at least hear the client out.

    One thing to watch out for is notes/retakes/etc. A limit has to be set or there's that risk they'll ask for changes outside your project's scope.

    I also think the Project Management Triangle/Pick Two(Fast, Good, Cheap) is a good guide to keep in mind, which I think your list is covering here.

    One more thing to be careful of is accidentally setting a bad precedent, or kicking off a whole "race to the bottom" scenario. It really depends on the situation. In your case Patrick it worked out alright. In other cases though, the client might have gone to someone else and said "This guy did it for free, why not you?" It's a constant juggling act. Something to watch out for.

  4. New York recently passed a freelancer protection bill, so there's now less risk to take on clients who contact you out of the blue and you may not fully trust.